The very first Pilgrim Thanksgiving included locally available food such as swan, beans and eel, with no modern-day cranberries or potatoes on record. However, the traditional Thanksgiving ideal creates the impression of an unimaginative--and bland--meal of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce. In fact, American Thanksgiving foods offer a surprising variety of regional and flavorful dishes that mean a predictable, flavorless Thanksgiving dinner is also a meal of the past.
Nothing is easier than baking a whole Thanksgiving turkey in the oven until the red timer pops up, but it may mean a dry turkey on the table. Instead, try a modern Thanksgiving variation to surprise guests with how delicious turkey can be. Turkey comes in many more options than a traditional frozen bird. New choices include breast of turkey, free-range turkey, wild turkeys, turducken (turkey stuffed with a duck and a chicken), tofu turkey or organic turkey.
Deep-fried turkey is a new Thanksgiving trend that originated in the Southern Unite States, although West Coast families may prefer an Asian marinated turkey cooked on the grill. Some avid cooks debone a fresh turkey, reshape it with stuffing to look whole again, then roast and slice right through the Thanksgiving turkey for a surprising carving display.
Canned cranberry sauce arrived on American tables around 1912, but today's jellied cranberry sauce contains high fructose corn syrup. A delicious homemade cranberry sauce is easy to make in less than 15 minutes. Empty a package of whole cranberries into a pan with some sugar, water, cinnamon and cloves, then simmer until the cranberries break down into a thick sauce. For a flavorful alternative, replace the water with orange juice and add grated orange zest to make the cranberry sauce a memorable side dish.
The turkey stuffing makes the difference between an average main course and a special holiday meal. Although the traditional Thanksgiving stuffing ingredient of cubed bread is still popular, stuffing can be made with wild rice, crackers or crumbled quick breads. Regional stuffing includes favorites such as cornbread stuffing in the Midwest or an herb oyster stuffing in the South. New England bread stuffing with cranberry and nuts creates a sweet and savory impact that guests look forward to every year.
A traditional Thanksgiving table requires a pumpkin pie or two made from canned pumpkin and served with some whipped cream as the finale. For a pumpkin pie variation, add a nut topping as a contrast to the pumpkin's smooth texture, or use maple flavoring with the pumpkin to complement the pumpkin pie spice flavors.
Transform the traditional sweet potato side dish into a dessert instead with sweet potato pie, a Southern favorite. Sweet potato pie is made of mashed, canned or cooked sweet potatoes (not yams), canned milk, eggs and seasonings and baked with a crunchy brown sugar nut topping.